My Q&A with DCSD about the voucher program

Raise Your Hand if You Have Questions

Raise your hand if you have any questions.

Below I present to you the notes we have from the meeting with Cutter & Ross (doesn’t that sound like a law firm, or a  TV police drama??):

Q. Was Mr. Lyons’ (lead attorney defending vouchers on behalf of DCSD) time during the radio show being billed under the Legal Defense Fund, or was his hourly rate (I’m guessing maybe $500/hour) going to come out of general district funds?
A.  He was in his capacity as legal defense, and fees will come out of Legal Defense Fund (donations from outside sources), not district funds.
(Note: So, doing a PR stint about the program qualifies as Legal Defense? Interesting. Wonder what else qualifies as Legal Defense?)

Q. Do district personnel (like Mr. Ross and Dr. Cutter) do time allocation/coding so they can track how many man hours are devoted to voucher issues (answering phone inquiries, media requests, meeting with snarky parents who like to challenge BoE motives, etc.)?
A. No, there is no time tracking, or project tracking.  And they have no desire to do so because, in their opinion, it is more trouble than it’s worth. (their laughter ensued)
(Note: Even though they thought this was hilarious, I think it’s quite important to note that valuable human resources and physical resources are being wasted on a program that gets so much attention…despite the fact that it is not operational, and illegal.)

Q. In the radio program there was a mention of a family with a child with severe needs that was counting on the voucher money so their child’s needs could be met. If that child’s needs could not be met by the district, doesn’t FAPE cover that child’s entire tuition?
A. The child mentioned in radio show was one the DCSD special ed team felt they COULD provide for, but the parents felt the child could only be served privately. That was purely a parent decision.
(Note: Hmmm. So, what if a parent thought the best thing for their child was for the District to pay for a psychic healer twice a week?  Or what if a parent thought only a brand new MacBook Pro would make everything okay…because I need a new laptop.)

Q. Do the partner schools (i.e, Valor, Denver Christian, etc.) have specific programs that neighborhood schools don’t?
A. Voucher parents chose the schools simply because that is where they want their child to go.  Cutter believes DCSD public schools match up academically to these private partner schools.
(Note: It was so nice to hear Dr. Cutter say that our schools are awesome academically …so it just lends itself to the question…why would we want to weaken our great school district? Doesn’t make sense.)

Q. What is the cost to administer testing for voucher students?
A. The numbers were determined by Bonnie Betz, CFO.  Her numbers indicated a “break even” at 200 students.  (My very basic math: based on $6,000 PPR, means about $300,000 would be the “break even” amount.) That was for everything – management of the program, testing costs, etc.  However, it wasn’t clear what the costs were for things like administrative support for the director of the fake charter school, etc. because “this was just a pilot program” and they hadn’t hired people yet when everything was put on hold. Anything beyond these costs would “potentially go back to district.”
(Note: Ahhh, there is that excuse – it was just a “pilot program” a.k.a., a big ol’ experiment.)

Q. Regarding the statement about 25% of the PPR  “potentially going back to district”, can you expand on that, please?
A. Cutter explained that the district purposefully kept it vaguely “money that could go back to schools” because when developing the program (2 years ago) the district was in financial trouble. Also, at the time the district was unsure about state funding, the economy, etc.   They were aware that schools could be negatively impacted, so the extra money would be used for that.  But since it was pilot program, no guidelines were developed for distribution of that money.   Additionally, there was a Board of individuals that would oversee the distribution of those funds.  This Board was made up of parents that received voucher money.
(Note: Yeah, right, that’s who I want in charge of spending the potential extra voucher money…)

Q. Was the ALEC model voucher program looked at when developing the program (I mentioned the ALEC document dated 2007 which calls their model “Choice Scholarship Program”)?
A. Cutter said:  “No. Still don’t know what ALEC is.” Then Ross said something about the “Choice Scholarship” name coming up at the first CDE meeting in January of 2011.  Dr. Cutter thought it was a complete and utter coincidence that the DCSD voucher system has the same, exact name as the 2007 ALEC document.  Really.
(Note: Really, Dr. Cutter? Really? Amazing coincidence.)

Q. What is the current language of the religious “Opt-Out” of the voucher program?
A. Voucher students don’t have to participate in school-required religious activities, but they may be required to respectfully attend. So if school required daily chapel, voucher students would have to go, but they can sit in the back. Students would be required to attend and participate in classes that teach things from a religious viewpoint, like science/creationism. Cutter goes on to explain that parents have chosen to go to these religious schools for a reason.  They’re not going there to opt-out. They’re going there to opt in.  And the district knew this going into it.
(Note: Whoa…did he just say that? Yes, he did. This admission is kinda a big deal…to me, anyway.)

Q. If the district does not receive any more donations to its Legal Defense Fund, will the appeal be pursued?
A. It is within the Board’s right to direct district funds (from general funds) for the lawsuit.  Although Cutter & Ross seemed to think receiving more donations would not be a problem, they also indicated this Board would pursue the appeals no matter what.
(Note: In other words, watch out…there will most likely be district funds used to take this case all the way to the US Supreme Court, if this Board has its way.)

Q. As discussed in the radio program, the voucher case will be in court until a year-or-so from now, so WHY is this all of a sudden being addressed?
A. Ross said he gets questions all the time about it and people all over the country are interested.  Both Ross and Cutter said they get about 2-3 questions a week regarding the voucher program.
(Note: see my note way up top where I mentioned the importance of tracking time. If these two highly paid individuals are answering questions about the defunct voucher program, it is a waste of their time $$. Oh, and the fact that “choice” is a buzz word in the election and Dr. Fagen is constantly trying to self-promote, I think the timing was calculated.)

Q. It seems there are many questions, still,  about the vouchers. Also, there is a fair amount of ambiguity. Why would that be?
A. It was a pilot program, the district was going to get information and data on the program as it progressed.
(Note: So this was just one big experiment. All at the expense of our beloved school district, the teachers, and the kids. That is irresponsible, putting in mildly.)

So, there you have it in a nutshell.  Like I said, it was a good meeting.  In fact, Dr. Cutter thanked us for being respectful.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3 take-away points from my Cutter & Ross meeting

Wilcox Building

DCSD Wilcox Building (aka “vortex of doom”?)

Were you worried about me?  I mean, no word from me after stepping foot in the Wilcox Building (known in some circles as the “vortex of doom”) and meeting with DCSD Legal Counsel and Assistant Superintendent…you had to be concerned, right?

Rest assured, I survived! Overall it was a good meeting with Rob Ross and Dr. Cutter.

(Back story: A couple weeks ago, Dr. Fagen hosted her weekly radio show with the topic being Douglas County’s illegal voucher program.  Upon the District’s request, I submitted 9 questions via Facebook and Twitter.  Most of those questions went unanswered, and I was a little ticked off.  Lo and behold, I got an email from Mr. Ross inviting me to meet with him and Dr. Cutter to get my questions answered.  I took him up on the offer, invited a friend, and the meeting was held this past Thursday.)

Going into the meeting I had several questions, which I will outline in a later post, but I want to first take the time to comment on “take away” points I had after the meeting:

  1. Our view on vouchers boils down to a basic philosophical difference.  Unlike the Board of Education, Dr. Fagen,  and Dr. Cutter (et al), I believe that giving public money to private schools is wrong on many levels and will destroy one of the basic rights of being an American.  Public education brings us as a society together, we are stronger for it, and we owe it to our great country to make our public schools the best and available to all. (Fee free to start humming a patriotic song of choice.)
  2. Anytime there is ambiguity in the program , it is explained away as, “it was a pilot program, so we didn’t have data or information to make those decisions”.  Lame excuse for not having details on a highly controversial program.
  3. There’s only one reason why (most) parents choose vouchers — religion.  And the District knew this going in. (Before you — yes, you — come after me and say this isn’t true, I want you to know that Dr. Cutter made this statement during the meeting, not me.)

So, although there were no fireworks, no spitballs across the conference table, and no “yo’ momma” comments, I came out of the meeting even more determined to fight for public education.

Update: Someone is listening…maybe.

Okay, so maybe I am being heard. Maybe.

After my previous blog post and comments on Facebook and Twitter, I got an email from Robert Ross, Legal Counsel for Douglas County School District.  He invited me to meet with him and Christian Cutter, Assistant Superintendent, to have my unanswered voucher questions addressed. Interesting.

I have to wonder — after they saw the last bit of my post and my tweet referencing Alex Forrest, is this how they envision me:

I won't be ignorrred, Dan.

“I won’t be ignorrred…”

So, perhaps they are afraid I’m going to cook their pet bunny. Or maybe they really want to answer my questions. Or maybe they want me to stop harping on how DCSD ignores the parent voice. We’ll see.